Volume 17 • Issue 23 | Oct. 29 - Nov. 4, 2004

Is ‘Tribeca’ fest mostly fiction?

By Ronda Kaysen

When Maria Gillespie, founder and choreographer of Oni Dance in Los Angeles, came across a press release circulating the Internet for the Tribeca Arts Festival, she thought she had found a way to get her fledgling dance company its first gig in Manhattan. The offer seemed too good to be true: in exchange for a $100 per dancer application fee, the festival would fit the bill for airfare and accommodations and pay the troupe $3,000 to perform. But now, two months after she sent off her $600 money order and no airplane tickets in sight, she is beginning to wonder if the Tribeca Arts Festival is, in fact, too good to be true.

E-mails and invitations for the new festival began circling in Los Angeles and other parts of the country in mid-August. Several artists were directly contacted by the festival coordinator and asked to apply. Others, like Gillespie, came across the festival themselves and applied. At least two performers simply appeared on the festival’s Web site as participants without ever agreeing to participate at all. The festival is scheduled to begin on Dec. 3, but tickets are not yet available, participants have not received travel itineraries or performance schedules and no Downtown institutions or elected officials have heard of the event.

“There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of infrastructure,” said Gillespie of the festival. “I know some people think it’s not going to happen; it’s a bizarre situation.”

With a signed contract from the festival, Gillespie is still holding out for the event. She founded Oni Dance in the spring and hopes that a Manhattan festival will give her dancers the boost and exposure they need. “It might be a losing proposition,” she said, “but I’m going to believe in this and I’m going to make it work.” If the festival does not occur, however, she said she will seek legal action to recoup her $600 registration fee.

The festival’s Web site bills itself as a not-for-profit organization hosting “two weeks of performance, classes, demos and awards” for dance, theater, film, video, photography, fashion, music and art. Applicants are instructed to fill out a lengthy application, which they can download from the Web site and mail it, via the U.S. Postal Service, along with a money order for $100. No personal checks made out to the festival are accepted. There is no phone number listed on the Web site, only a voicemail number, a fax number, an e-mail address and a mailing address. The site is apparently sponsored by another Web domain, Newyorkpetclub.com, which is directed by a D.C. Evans.

According to Dale Evans, the festival’s founder and president, Tribeca Arts Festival is legitimate and busily preparing for its debut. “It’s growing into a huge undertaking,” said Evans. “We have six volunteers and people who come in and help. By mid-November there will be 30 volunteers.”

Evans said he expects at least 75 artists and performers to take part in his two-week festival, which, according to him, has booked its opening event at the Marriott Marquis and its closing event at the Grand Hyatt, both in Midtown. The venues for the remaining two weeks of performances are yet to be booked. A spokesperson for the Marriott declined to confirm whether or not the festival had booked an event there. The Hyatt did not return calls for comment.

Using the Tribeca name for what at this point appears to be a Midtown event makes sense to Evans. “We wanted to call it Tribeca Arts Festival because we started here and because it doesn’t get attention when you say Far Rockaway Arts Festival,” he said, although he has no apparent ties to Far Rockaway in Brooklyn. One event, the photography exhibit, will be in Tribeca, at the Soho Photo Gallery on White St., said Evans.

Larry Davis, president of the co-operative gallery knows of no such arrangement. “For them to say that we’re hosting their photography exhibit is just not true,” he said. “We have four solo shows that month.” The upstairs gallery is also booked with a guest show: the New Year’s Eve Project by Jill Waterman.

Davis had heard of the Tribeca Arts Festival, however. The Tribeca gallery’s community outreach coordinator, Rosalie Frost, sent a letter to the festival on Oct. 21 inquiring about the festival and wondering how Soho Photo might participate. She has not yet received a reply from anyone at the festival, said Davis.

The Tribeca Arts Festival has no connection to the Robert De Niro-steered Tribeca Film Festival, said Madelyn Wils, president and C.E.O. of De Niro’s Tribeca Film Institute.

A longtime New York City street vendor, Evans describes himself as an artist. He said he started the festival as a way to help unknown artists make their mark. “There’s a certain elitism [in the New York City arts community] that the festival is meant to avoid,” said Evans. “We’re trying to make sure people aren’t missed.”

He is confident the festival will be a success. Tickets for the opening and closing events should go on sale shortly, according to Evans. Although a price has yet to be set, Evans expects to sell tickets to the opening and closing events for about $50 a piece. A two-week all-access pass to the festival, which has no venues or performance schedule, will cost $250, although Evans does not yet know where the public can purchase those tickets. Ashley Stewart, a plus-size fashion company for women, will host a fashion show dubbed “Fashion Week” at the Marriott on opening night, said Evans. Stewart did not return calls for comment.

Evans launched the event with the help of “a small group of friends who decided to quit talking and do something,” he said. When asked who the other financial backers were, Evans said, “It’s not any of your business.” He later elaborated, “They don’t want their name out there, but they want it done.”

According to Paul Nagle, an aide to City Councilmember Alan Gerson, the finances of the festival are very much the public’s business. A not-for-profit organization is tax-exempt and must follow certain guidelines. Nagle said he visited the festival’s Downtown offices and found what appeared to be a shared office space with only a receptionist present that provided no information or festival staff. After he found no evidence supporting the festival’s not-for-profit status, Nagle filed a complaint on Oct. 22 with the New York State Charities Bureau.

But Evans, despite his Web site’s language, insists his company is not a tax-exempt institution. “We’re not-for-profit, not non-profit,” he clarified. “Not-for-profit is often used with art projects and cultural events. There’s nothing tax exempt about it.” 501(c)3’s he said, function poorly and waste money on unnecessary staff and projects.

Evans bills his private company as not-for-profit because the company is less interested in making a profit than it is in supporting the arts. He said he would donate art supplies through his organization’s philanthropic arm, Tribeca Arts Community Arts Program, to two organizations, the Bronx New Mommies Group, Inc. and Crossing Borders, a workshop for children and adults. He said proceeds from the festival would go to the Dance Theatre of Harlem, which recently announced plans to shut its dance school and layoff 44 dancers due to budget shortfalls. “I was a working artist and decided to put my money where my mouth is,” said Evans.

Roxanne Taylor, founder and executive director of the Bronx New Mommies Group, said no one told of her of a Nov. 1 donation, but hoped it was true. “If they are looking to donate to us, we would greatly appreciate it,” she said. “But we haven’t heard anything from them.” Taylor did remember, however, receiving an e-mail inquiry from the festival after she posted an advertisement for volunteers on Craigslist, an online bulletin board. After the initial e-mail, to which she replied, no one followed up with her again. “I really wasn’t aware that they were going to donate anything to us,” she said. Dance Theatre of Harlem, another prospective recipient of the festival’s revenue, did not return calls for comment.

Some participants have been surprised to see links to their own Web pages appear on the festival’s site at all. Belly dancer Meera Varma received a letter dated Aug. 24 signed by festival coordinating director D. Courtney suggesting she apply for the festival. Although she never applied and no one ever contacted her by phone, she is listed as one of two belly dancers scheduled to perform at the festival.

According to her publicist, Amber Emerzian, Varma has no plans to attend the December event. “They’ve publicized her all over this site and she’s given them nothing to this date,” said Emerzian. “Why would anyone give $100 to register when all their expenses are going to be paid for?” Evans insists all listed participants have paid the registration fees in full and have agreed to participate.

Not all the participants have avoided paying the registration fee. In addition to the $600 that Oni Dance paid Evans, Lineage Dance in Los Angeles paid $100 for its company of six dancers and was told they would be paid $200 per dancer, a total of $1,200, to perform.

According to Hilary Thomas, director of Lineage, many Los Angeles performers have grown suspicious of the festival and several lawyers are investigating the contracts and application forms. The combination of community concern and spotty communication from the festival has made her wary. At this point, she does not expect to receive plane tickets for herself or the other dancers in her company.

Thomas is not sure what to think of Evans. “I feel like [he] has these wild dreams and had no idea what he’s getting himself into,” she said.

Some participants have unsuccessfully tried to pay the fee. Paisley Rekdal, a poet and assistant professor of English at the University of Utah, was tapped for the festival’s 2004 Poetry Award, although she did not apply for it. “He hasn’t gotten a dime out of me,” she said of Evans. “He requested some registration fees and a reading fee for the poem and I didn’t send him any money orders and he declared me a winner.”

She later attempted to send him a check for $10, as a belated registration fee, but Evans was unable to cash it because it was made out to the Tribeca Arts Festival. He could only accept money orders, he said. “If it is a scam,” she said. “It’s one of the worst sought out scams I’ve ever seen.”


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